Friday, March 16, 2007

Profile: William Ash - In His Own Words

From left to right is William S. Ash, William H. Ash and William Ash all of rural St. Vincent, MN. Photo taken in 1933
I was born January 15, 1869, north of Toronto, Canada, of German parents who came to Canada as young children in the early 1850s from Alsace-Lorraine.

We came to Minnesota by boat by way of Georgian Bay and Lake Superior to Duluth in June 1879. We took the Northern Pacific from Duluth to Glyndon, and the Great Northern (which was then called the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba) to Emerson, Manitoba, Canada. The present Great Northern connected with the Canadian Pacific R.R. at Emerson as of December 1878. The CPR built from Winnipeg to the border and the GN from Crookston, Minnesota to the same place. The CPR had its supplies shipped down the Red River from Fisher's Landing and Moorhead. The railroads and steamboats used wood for fuel at that time. Wood for the railroads was cut in shorter than cordwood lengths by horse-powered tread mills.

Father bought a Homesteader's title in St. Vincent Township of 160 acres. He made the transfer at Crookston, Minnesota June 25, 1879 and also received his first citizenship paperwork then.

The first night on the farm the family of nine found shelter in a house 14' x 24' with only one strip of tar paper left on the roof and an old-fashioned umbrella against a downpour of rain. The house was built of one-ply of lumber on the outside. Father shingled it and sealed up the room inside with paper and boards. He built a ladder up the wall into the loft above where our bed was made on the ceiling between the joists. The joists were 4 feet apart. My three brothers and I slept there foot to foot and if we raised up suddenly we bumped our heads.
Father also made a bed, table and benches from lumber. The cloth ticks were stuffed with prairie hay. These were the mattresses. By the second winter Father had built a log addition to the house. The boys had double bunk beds and a stove to keep warm.

After getting settled in the new home, it was a short time before Mother was able to bake bread. My brothers and I carried bread from Emerson in a basket across the prairie for five miles. I was then 10 years old. Later, from our first garden, I carried surplus vegetables to Emerson and sold them.

I can distinctly remember hearing the evening salute of the cannon fired at Fort Pembina.

The first hay Father cut with a scythe was a mixture of wild vetsch and red top grass the tallest of which was waist high. Father purchased a team of oxen while he held the plow [Note from Trish - not sure what that last sentence means...]

Later in 1882, Father traded the oxen and $160 for a team of mules. That year spring was very late. On April 11 Father and I drove several miles east with a sleigh to get a load of wood. We crossed the old Winnipeg to St. Paul trail that day.

Our first crop of about 25 acres was cut by cradle and threshed by horse-powered thresher. Later we used twine binders and the grain was threshed from stacks with steam-threshing outfits.

These in turn were followed by gasoline-powered machines. Now everything is handled with combines (some tractor-drawn and others self-propelled...)

The first threshing machines were equipped with straw carriers instead of blowers. Straw wanted for the barns had to be stacked by hand as it came from the carrier. Straw not wanted was bucked away from the machines to be burned) with a bucking pole and two horses driven by boys.

The threshing crews of early days were composed of 20-25 men working from 6 in the morning til 8 at night or later. Supper came after the machine stopped. No, 6 or 7 men take off the crop with combines. Meals are served in the field. Work stops when the dew falls. Dishes for the mean are washed not long before dark.

I purchased my first farm in 1895 and am still living on it.

[Written circa 1933]